Topics: Labor’s secret budget deal; nuclear-powered submarines; aged care sector


02:05PM AEST


Simon Birmingham: on the Today Show Anthony Albanese was asked on five occasions whether he would guarantee that taxes wouldn’t rise for Australians under a Labor government. On five occasions, asked whether he could guarantee taxes wouldn’t rise, Anthony Albanese squibbed it. He ducked. He weaved. He used endless words, he deviated. But he failed to answer the fundamental question. He failed to give Australians a guarantee.

On April Fool’s Day, Anthony Albanese was trying to fool Australians into thinking that they wouldn’t pay higher taxes under a Labor government. But he was exposed because he failed to give the commitment. This just shows clearly that under Labor, with ever higher spending promises, Australians face the real risk of ever higher taxes. Fundamental to the success of our economic plan that has secured record employment growth for Australia and has unemployment headed to a 50 year low, has been our low taxing agenda. Lower taxes for Australians going to work. Lower income taxes. Lower taxes for Australian small businesses, lower company taxes. Lower taxes on business investment. All of it incentivised to make our economy stronger and all of it delivering economic strength that would be threatened to jeopardise if Labor gets in and applies yet another big spending, big taxing approach that would destroy the type of growth in jobs and opportunities we’ve seen for Australians.

We of course also had Mr. Albanese’s budget reply speech last night. A speech devoid of any economic plan, with no plan for the economy, no plan for jobs, no plan for lower taxes. Nothing in there to show how they would keep the economy going, jobs going, and fund the type of excessive promises that seem to be already making. But it’s also curious because last night Mr. Albanese spoke about Labor’s plans in relation allegedly to aged care. Giving an opaque commitment to supporting higher wage growth. Yes, the Health Services Union come out and say that Labor has committed to fully support their claim for a 25% pay rise, that’s what the HSU says about Mr. Albanese. Why is this suspicious? Because only a week ago the HSU was saying they would make significant contributions to the Labor Party, if, if the Labor Party backed in the Health Services Union. So what backroom deal has been done? What secret plans are there between Labor and the Health Services Union to ensure that Labor gets the benefits of Health Services Union contributions to the Labor Party campaign, that Labor basically goes out and makes these sorts of opaque promises in the Parliament just to get union patronage for their campaign.


Journalist: Senator Birmingham perhaps you could clear something up for me on this issue about the pay rise for aged care workers. The industrial umpire will make this decision. Decide whatever it’ll be, 25% or less, whatever. Whichever party is in government will have to honour that pay rise. So what’s the difference between you and Labor? You both have to honour the industrial umpire’s decision on this. So what’s the difference?


Simon Birmingham: So, Jo, you’re right that the industrial umpire will ultimately make the decision. We will make sure, as we’re doing wage cases generally, that the industrial umpire has the information and evidence it needs to make an informed decision. But we’re not going out there making any sort of promises or implying any sort of promises about what that decision will be. We back the independence of the umpire to make that call themselves. Labor Party who’s saying that they’re going to write a letter to the umpire saying that they want to see higher spending or higher wages in the sector. But they’re being disingenuous in saying in the parliament, in their media interviews that it’s just a generic call. Yet it would seem in their private discussions with the Health Services Union. They’re saying something different. Mr. Albanese needs to front up and be very clear. Is it the full 25% ask of the Health Services Union that the Labor Party is going to make a submission calling for? Will that be the content of their submission? Tell us the truth. Tell us the details. Because last night’s plan lacked any detail. In terms of how a coalition government would respond to that wage case. Well, it’s identified in the statement of risks in the budget papers in the ordinary way. We’d respond in ways like we have with the aged care sector already. We invested $19.2 billion more in aged care reform over last budget, and this budget notably addressing areas like home care support for Australians, which Labor has completely overlooked because we want to get the support for Australians to have the choice to stay in their own home with care there, as well as the opportunity to have high quality residential aged care if necessary. But if there is a wage determination that has impact on the sustainability of the aged care sector, then we will sit down and work with the sector through any of those implications.


Journalist: So the fundamental question being asked of Mr. Albanese this morning was will you raise taxes in order to repair the budget? The Prime Minister has said the Coalition won’t be raising taxes in the next year. The only other way to repair the budget is to make cuts. Is that what you plan to do?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Jonathan, it’s not the only other way to repair the budget, as we proved between last year’s budget and this year’s budget. We demonstrated that our fiscal strategy was about economic growth and ensuring that we can grow the economy faster than a debt to be able to achieve a more sustainable budget position. And if you look at Jonathan, Jonathan, we managed to reduce projected deficits by more than $100 billion in this budget. And in terms of deficits as a share of GDP, we’ve managed to more than halved them compared with what they were projected to be. Not just over the next couple of years, but over the cycle of the medium term as well. So we’ve demonstrated that our economic growth plan as part of the fiscal strategy is working. Making returns not just in terms of more jobs for Australians, but lower deficits and lower debt for Australia. The fact is the Labor Party can’t be trusted with that. And if Mr. Albanese goes down a pathway, as he refused to rule out today on jacking taxes up even further, well then that will only hurt Australia’s economic growth prospects into the future.


Journalist: Minister, given the attacks that you’ve just made about the Opposition, can you categorically rule out that there’s no hidden taxes, no hidden levies in the budget that haven’t been automatically disclosed that the Government would be looking to do down the line if it gets back into office?


Simon Birmingham: I can rule that out and I can certainly say with absolute clarity the Coalition, the Liberal and National Parties are the parties of lower taxes in Australia. Our track record proves it. Australians are getting around one and a half billion dollars extra per month in their take home pay as a result of our income tax cuts and in the next term of Parliament our legislated tax cuts will ensure that around 90% of Australians pay no more than $0.30 in the dollar top marginal tax rate. Fundamental tax reform that we’ve delivered on income tax as we have on company tax as we have elsewhere, in lowering the tax burden for Australians and Australian small businesses.


Journalist: Minister, today Defence officials have confirmed that the cancelled French submarine contract will cost taxpayers in the order of five and a half billion dollars. Does that embarrass you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look it, it’s a situation where it would have been reckless to proceed with building submarines when we had a better technologically superior option that could be pursued. Knowing that the changed strategic environment in the region meant that the option that had previously been chosen was not going to meet the best needs for Australia in the future. As always, we wish that we had more information and the availability of nuclear-powered submarines at an earlier time. We didn’t have that technology available to us. We didn’t have that information available to us. But to not make the difficult decision and it was a difficult decision, there’s no shying away from the fact that we knew there were serious consequences from changing course from the diesel powered submarines to the nuclear-powered submarines. But we were willing to make those difficult decisions, not because they were easy this year or next year, but because they are necessary for the decades to come.


Journalist: On wages. So Labor says it would pay for the increased wages if it forms government, what you would do is you’re not sure at this stage if you sit down and figure out who will pay the increased wages, and that’s the position you’re in at the moment?


Simon Birmingham: The federal government doesn’t pay the wages of aged care workers. The aged care operators, the operators of residential aged care facilities pay the wages of aged care workers. We have helped to underpin the sustainability of those facilities, we’ve provided $19.2 billion worth of funding into aged care, which is ensuring right now that residents receive more care time with workers, more care time with nurses, better quality of care through greater supervision and greater accountability and transparency in the aged care sector. And we provided a $10 per day increase in relation to the rates paid to help fund better care and the sustainability of the aged care sector. And we’ll always sit down and work with the sector to ensure their sustainability-.


Journalist: Labor [indistinct] that’s what they’ll do. You haven’t decided who, where that burden would fall because it’s going to be either the providers that are consumers or residents of the government.


Simon Birmingham: Tom, we would we would receive the details of whatever the Fair Work Commission decides, and then we’d work through it with the sector.


Journalist: It could mean people have to pay more for aged care under a Coalition government?


Simon Birmingham: No, Tom because those are those elements of the consumer contributions are already laid out as part of the way in which the aged care sector works. So that’s not part of our plan at all. But we’ll work with the sector to make sure that whatever is necessary to ensure the quality and sustainability of it is achieved. But unlike the Labor Party, we’re not in the business of either giving blank checks or doing secret deals with trade unions.


Journalist: You’re saying no consumer would pay more. That’s the part you’re ruling out in terms of where the pay increase burden falls?


Simon Birmingham: The way in which consumers make contributions to residential aged care is set out in legislation in terms of the way in which deposit contributions and other contributions are made and we’re not proposing any changes to that. Thanks, everyone.